Sunday, May 10, 2009

Canine Sport

Dog agility is a canine sport in which a handler directs a dog through a course of standard obstacles laid-out by a judge in a race for time and accuracy. Dogs run off leash and the handler can not use food or toys as incentives for performance. Moreover, the handler is not permit to touch the dog or the obstacles, except accidentally. Handler controls are limited to voice, movement, and various body signals, requiring exceptional training of her animal.

Agility course consists of a set of standard obstacles:

A-frame-Two broad ramps, usually about 3 feet wide by 8 to 9 feet long, hinged together and raised so that the hinged connection is between five feet above the ground, forming an A shape;

Dogwalk-Three 8 to 12 ft planks that are 9 to 12 inches wide and connected at the ends. The centre plank is raised about 4 feet above the ground, so that the two end planks form ramps leading up to and down from the center plank.

Teeter-totter-A 10 to 12 foot plank pivoting on a support, like a child's seesaw.

Tunnel (chute or rigid tunnel)-A vinyl tube, 10 to 20 feet long and about 2 feet in diameter, through which the dog runs. .

Jump-Two uprights supporting a horizontal bar over which the dog jumps. The height is adjusted for dogs of different heights.

Tire jump-Roughly the size of a tire, suspended in a frame. The dog must jump through the opening of the "tire"; like other jumps, the height is adjusted for dogs of different sizes.

Table -An elevated square platform about 3-foot-by-3-foot square onto which the dog must jump and pause, either sitting or in a down position, for a designated period of time (usually about 5 seconds) which is counted out by the judge.

Weave poles- Like a slalom, this is a series of 5 to 12 upright poles, each about 3 feet tall and spaced about 20 inches apart, through which the dog weaves.

To prepare for competition, a handler must take the time to highly train her dog and implement numerous strategies to direct her dog for precision and speed. But really, for the average dog and his owner, agility owner is all about fun and spending time together.

A few years, ago I took an agility course with my dog, Hudson at the ASPCA in New York City. It was an amazing experience for both of us. Although Hudson was a bit shy going thru the tunnels, he managed to enjoy the jumps and weave poles and wasn't afraid of the a-frame, dogswalk or see-saw. Over the course of a few weeks, I recognize that Hudson became more athletic and a much more confident dog. Perhaps, I should do some agility with my other dogs, especially Rhone and Teign for just that reason. They are both shy and introverted-typically English Toy Spaniels.

Moreover even if you don't have time to take an agility classes, there are inexpensive agility kits that you can buy. Spend some quality time with your dog this summer in the backyard conditioning him all for sporting fun. Better yet, if you want to experience pure doggie joy, incorporate agility into any type of dog party. Watching a Great Pyrenees, walk over planks and barrel through tunnels is just as much fun as watching a Toy Poodle discover her athletic ability on a low hurdle.

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